EDMONTON -- First Nations communities in Alberta have been hit hard by COVID-19. The province has seen the highest number of cases on reserves in Canada. That's why CTV News visited one Indigenous community south of Edmonton to find out how they've been coping.

Maskwacis First Nation has seen a recent surge in cases.

In his latest update, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback told his community that nearly 10 per cent of the 18,000 people living in Maskwacis have caught the virus.

"We’ve had a total case of 1,573 in Maskwacis," Saddleback said.

The chief believes when Indigenous people become infected by the virus, the outcomes are worse for them than in other communities.

"For whatever reason COVID-19 really goes after Indigenous people really harshly," Chief Saddleback said. "Off reserve, 86 is the average age we’re losing people, on reserve, unfortunately the average age is 69."

According to the Maskwacis Health Authority, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of six residents, three of whom were under the age of 40.

Officials tell CTV News Edmonton the uptick in cases is likely due to spread at funerals and within households.

"We don’t have that many houses," said Randy Littlechild from the Maskwacis Health Authority. "You could have anywhere between 10 and 15 people in a household."

"For us traditionally it's hard to have a funeral where there's no body contact," Interim Emergency Manager for Samson Cree Nation, Murray Potts, told CTV News Edmonton. "The people want to show the respect to the families and that's where our numbers are coming from."

Food hampers are being handed out on the reserve, and trailers have been set up on the reserve, for anyone who is sick or isolating.

"We try to encourage them, but some people don't want to leave their families. They don't want to leave their home," said Littlechild.

Meanwhile, Chief Saddleback says case numbers in Maskwacis are going in the right direction, as community shutdows are seemingly having the desired effect.

"Our numbers were as high as just shy of 600 people actively positive in our community, so that was pretty bad," said Saddleback. "Our numbers have dropped as of yesterday."

As of Wednesday, a total of 1,202 people on the reserve had recovered from COVID-19, with 361 cases still active.

Thirteen people have been hospitalized and six have died because of COVID-19.

As vaccine rollouts continue, the province has promised Indigenous Albertans over the age of 65 that they'll be next in line. A prospect officials believe will be a game changer.

"So the operative word right now Is this: it’s one of the words I’ve learned in this whole pandemic," said Saddleback. "It’s 'Isahowin' in Cree. It means 'patience.' So I just want to ask everyone to be patient. Our health services are doing the best they can. 

In an update late Friday afternoon, Murray Potts said Maskwacis expects 500 doses of vaccines to arrive Saturday.

According to Indigenous Services Canada, as of Jan. 11 Alberta First Nations had seen 3,639 cases of COVID-19. Manitoba First Nations had 3,000 cases, Saskatchewan First Nations had 2,906, British Columbia First Nations had 954, Quebec First Nations had 384, Ontario First Nations had 338 and Atlantic First Nations had eight.

That's a total of 11,229 COVID-19 cases in Indigenous communities across the country. 

As of Jan. 11, there have been 103 COVID-19 deaths in First Nations communities in Canada.